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Order in the Church

Living with Grace  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  39:09
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Titus 1:5 NKJV
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—
Who hasn’t put a puzzle together at one time or another? Either you’re an avid puzzle enthusiast or you’ve at least tried to put one together at your grandma’s house. Whatever the case, there’s something satisfying about popping that final piece into place, and there’s also something frustrating about leaving a puzzle unfinished or worse yet – finding out that you don’t have all the pieces!
God is assembling something far more significant than a jigsaw puzzle. He is building the church through Jesus Christ (Matt 16:18). This is an ongoing process which he has not yet completed, and this process requires effort and participation from us as well, we who are just one of many churches in the world.
Even a church with a fifty-plus-year history has work to do to make progress in the work that God has started. We don’t need to recover the past. We need to reach for the future!

Progress for a church takes place over time.

Churches don’t pop up and become everything God wants them to be overnight. Not even the apostle Paul enjoyed this kind of instant success. That’s why he said, for instance, “For this reason I left you in Crete” (Tit 1:5). He was acknowledging that there was work that needed to be done in the churches in Crete.
What is Crete and when did Paul leave Titus there?
Crete is the largest, most populated Greek island today, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. In the first century, people could sail 100 mi. from the Greek mainland to this island in 1-2 days. It’s a long, narrow island, 160 mi. wide, with a mountain ridge running the length of it.
The NT doesn’t record much activity on this island except for what happened in Acts 27, when Paul endured a harrowing ship voyage to Jerusalem that brought him close by.
The only other thing we know is what Paul says here about leaving Titus behind on the island, but we don’t know when this happened.
From this occurrence we know that Paul and Titus had spent enough time on this island together that multiple churches had formed. For whatever reason, Paul then left the island and left Titus behind.
This series of events in Paul’s ministry reminds us that forward progress for any church takes place over time. Churches begin and then they become more of what they should be over time. That doesn’t happen all at once at the beginning.
Anyone who’s part of a church should take a patient, long-range approach. We should not expect instant results. As exciting as the earliest years of a church may be, time and commitment is required for the church to become all that Christ intends for it to be.
Key Question: Are you committed to the process of helping Brookdale become what God wants it to be over time?
Don’t just join or participate with a church for what it is. Join or participate for where it is going and what it can and should become over time. Be committed to that process.

Church progress can involve various men.

In the case of Crete, these churches seem to have begun through the shared ministry of Paul and Titus. As effective as these men had been, one of them – Paul – needed to move on. We don’t know why he moved on. We just know that he did. We also know that he left Titus behind, and we know he left Titus behind for a reason. He said, “I left you in Crete for this reason.”
Before we look at Paul’s reason for leaving Titus on Crete, we should pause to recognize a simple reality of life, even life as a church. As much as we idealize that scenario in which a man starts a church and stays there for his lifetime, this is not a necessary approach. From the earliest days, God has often given churches a variety of leaders over time.
Though church leaders change for unfortunate reasons sometimes, such leadership changes are not always unfortunate. Sometimes such change is simply a part of God’s sovereign plan to move a church forward.
Consider the church at Corinth, for instance. They had been led by Paul for a while, then by another man named Apollos for a while, and others followed.
1 Corinthians 3:5–7 NKJV
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.
Different church leaders make different contributions, each making key contributions along the way that leads to gradual progress over time. To benefit from this dynamic, a church needs to avoid preferring one leader over another or comparing one leader to another. Each has a different part to play in the progress of the church.

For churches to progress, they need occasional adjustment and correction.

Does this surprise you? Sometimes we get the idea that churches today are more “messed up” than they were in the first century. We hold up first-century churches as the ideal models for churches today. We say things like, “We need to get back to Acts-level Christianity!” But have we thought about what we’re saying when we talk this way?
The earliest churches had just as many problems as churches do today! Just read the epistles. Those earliest churches, even those which Paul himself had started and served, grappled with some serious problems needing correction. That’s why he wrote a high percentage of the NT – to provide necessary adjustments and corrections for problems in the churches.
Most of Paul’s letters address multiple doctrinal and theological errors or misunderstandings as well as failures or struggles with sinful, subpar behaviors and strained relationships in the churches he knew. The same is true of what Peter, John, James, Jude, and other NT writers wrote as well.
That’s why Paul left Titus in Crete. The churches they had started together needed to be “straightened out.” There were some things about these churches which were “out of order.” Paul wrote this letter to help Titus fix them.
Now, we’re not sure why things were out of order in the churches on Crete.
It’s possible that Paul had to leave the island before he and Titus could “finish the job,” so to speak. If so, then Paul had left Titus behind to take care of some unfinished business. Though the churches had started, they had several steps to take to become more biblical churches.
It’s also possible that when Paul left the island, the churches had recently slipped backwards from a more positive condition. If this were the case, then Paul had left Titus behind to bring the churches back to a more spiritually healthy condition.
It’s quite possible that both these reasons were simultaneously true. If so, then Paul had left Titus behind to move the churches forward in some new ways while also helping them recover some previous spiritual progress in other ways.
Whatever the case, the churches on Crete were “out of order.” The word “set in order” shares similar elements with our word orthodontistor orthopedics. An orthodontist sets crooked teeth straight and an orthopedic surgeon repairs broken, misshaped bones. Paul had assigned Titus to be a spiritual orthodontist for the churches on Crete.
Key Question: In what ways have we slipped backwards as a church and in what ways do we need to go forward?

The churches on Crete were deficient in multiple ways.

An orthopedic physician would call this a compound fracture rather than a clean break. As we’ll discover throughout the letter, the churches on Crete were out of alignment in their leadership, relationships, moral behavior, personal priorities, and doctrinal beliefs.
Paul lumps these fractured shortcomings together by calling them “the things that are lacking” and we’ll explore these problems in greater depth in upcoming sermons.
Paul then singles out one of these shortcomings from the outset: “that you should appoint elders in every city.”
Perhaps he singles out this deficiency because it’s the first shortcoming he’ll address in the letter, so by mentioning it he forms a nice transition to what he’s about to write next.
If this is the case, then we must still ask the question, “Why did he choose to address this shortcoming first?” If he had assigned Titus to set straight a compound fracture, then why – in the spirit of triage – would he choose to treat this fracture first before the others?

Everything rises and falls on leadership.

John Maxwell, a Christian author and speaker, coined this well-worn phrase, and by quoting him I’m not endorsing whatever downsides his ministry may represent. By quoting this statement, I hope to draw attention to what Paul emphasized for Titus – that for a church (or the churches on Crete) to progress, good leadership is (was) required.
Though Paul will go on to address other needs in the churches on Crete, he focused first on the importance of good leadership. He underscores this point through several means:
He singles out this need in particular while referring to and lumping together the other needs in a general, vague way for now (Tit 1:5).
He expands his discussion of this need in depth before moving on to other problems (Tit 1:6-9).
He focuses on the contrasting characters (bad leaders) who were influencing the church in the absence of good leaders (Tit 1:10-16). He points to the bad leaders as both a foil and nemesis that highlights the need for good leaders.
He extends his emphasis on good leadership from pastoral leaders in particular to leadership in the church more broadly (Tit 2:1-10).
By focusing on the need for good leadership in the church, both at the pastor level and the rest-of-the-church level, Paul makes a very emphatic point, which is the following.

For a church to progress, it needs good examples to follow.

This point raises an important question from this verse, which is, “What is an elder?”
To Jewish people (from whom we received this word), an elder was an older man (generally speaking) who held a leadership position in the local synagogue and community (on some occasions).
For the church (who adopted this term), an elder was merely a man of respected Christian character who in some cases held an appointed leadership position in the church, whether he was an older man or not (1 Tim 4:12).
The NT also calls this man or position in the church two other names, shepherd (Eph 4:11) and bishop (1 Tim 3:1). In this instance, though, Paul uses the word elder, but why?
Each of these three words emphasizes a different aspect of this role singular:
Shepherd emphasizes the pastoral care he provides.
Bishop emphasizes the administrative duties he performs.
Elder emphasizes the example he provides both to the congregation and community.
Knowing this, we should conclude that in light of the challenges and problems that the Cretan churches faced, they needed men who would be good examples of Christian living. They needed role models to follow within the church and men who would represent them with a good reputation in the surrounding community.
Though Paul could have emphasized the need to for pastoral care or administrative leadership, he emphasized the need for exemplary Christian men because this emphasis met the current needs of the churches on Crete most directly.
Exemplary, Christlike men like this were lacking in the churches:
Church members on Crete were especially new believers, having come to Christ from a culture marked by bad manners, dishonesty, self-centered values, and loose moral and sexual behavior. Paul speaks about these problems later in this letter.
To make matters worse, unbiblical influencers were filling this leadership void both with legalistic, rule-based teaching and teaching that encouraged a self-centered lifestyle. Paul also speaks about this problem later in the letter.
Paul knew that for the churches on Crete to move forward, they must develop and identify men who could lead them by example. They could not follow the examples of Paul and Titus alone. Paul had come and gone, and Titus would eventually move on, too. Even if he stayed on the island, he alone could not be the kind of example these churches would need.
A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (Exegesis)
In the ancient, epic Greek poem, the Iliad, Homer claimed that Crete harbored 90-100 cities. During the Greek classical era, this number had reduced to about 35 cities as smaller cities merged with larger, more powerful cities. By the first century, when Paul and Titus planted churches, the island was home to approx. 20 cities.
Though one or two men – even high-caliber men like Paul and Titus – could initiate the startup of churches in these cities, they could not effectively lead them to long-term progress. Though we don’t know that churches started in all 20 cities, we can safely conclude that churches were started in many of them. To progress spiritually over time, these churches needed the faithful leadership of qualified Christian men to be examples in each congregation – men besides Paul and Titus.

Multiple elders are ideal for a church to progress.

I make this point because it relates to an important detail in this verse. Paul told Titus to “appoint elders in every city.” This statement raises a fascinating question.
We know Paul required Titus to appoint multiple men as elders, that much is clear since he uses the word elders as plural, and he referred to multiple churches and cities.
But does this statement also require Titus to appoint multiple elders in each church or just one per church?
After studying this subject in depth, I have reached two complimentary conclusions:
This statement doesn’t necessarily require or demand multiple elders for each individual congregation.
However, this statement does allow (at the least) or encourage (at the most) having multiple elders per church.
We must pause to remember that by elders we are referring to what the Bible also calls pastors or bishops. These are three related terms that describe the same leadership role in the church. Whichever word you use, you are referring to the same role and it is safe to conclude that for a church to progress it is best and ideal – whenever possible – to appoint more than one pastor (elder) to lead them.
Evidence from the rest of the NT supports this conclusion through a regular pattern of referring to pastors (elders) as plural rather than single.
The church at Jerusalem had multiple pastors (Acts 11:30; 15:2, 4; 21:18; Jam. 5:14)
The church at Syrian Antioch had multiple pastors (Acts 13:1),
The same was true at Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch (Acts 14:23)
The church at Ephesus had multiple pastors (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Tim. 5:17)
The church at Philippi had multiple pastors (Phil. 1:2)
The church at Thessalonica had multiple pastors (1 Thess. 5:12).
Some graciously disagree with this analysis and suggest that the messengers of the seven churches in Revelation provide clear examples of churches with a single pastor (Rev. 1:20; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14).
Revelation 2:1 (NKJV)
To the angel of the church of Ephesus write ...
Yet how can we know that the messengers mentioned in Revelation 2-3 are the “senior pastors” for each congregation?
Nowhere else in Scripture does the word messenger used in these verses refer to pastors. It frequently refers to angels, yet in this context, the best answer seems to be the most straightforward meaning of this word – a human messenger who assigned to carry these letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Furthermore, notice that these churches in Revelation include the church at Ephesus, which we know had multiple pastors during that time (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Tim. 5:17).
So, what are the benefits of a church having multiple pastors? There are many reasons why multiple elders (or pastors) are preferred. These include:
Expanded impact and influence
Increased perspective and oversight
Greater accessibility and involvement
Enhanced accountability and teamwork
I know the value of a multiple-elder team firsthand.
In 2014, I arrived at a church in NYC which had been started by a single pastor decades before. (He was married but he was the only pastor.) He eventually moved on and a two-man pastoral team succeeded him.
During this next phase of the church’s life, the church progressed significantly over the course of twenty-six years. When both pastors moved on, I stepped in after them and we returned to a one-pastor model.
Though God accomplished some significant things in the church during that time, the need for a second pastor was clear. By God’s grace, we were able to “straighten out” that detail which was lacking by mentoring and ordaining a second pastor from within the congregation, and when I transitioned to Brookdale Baptist after seven years in NYC, I was thrilled to leave the church there with a two-pastor team once again.
I believe that God has a similar desire and design for Brookdale.
The church was started by a single pastor then has benefited from the ministries of various other pastors since then.
However, the most significant progress happened for the church during a time when a two-pastor team was formed.
We have since moved back from that model and need to “straighten that out.”
Though we cannot meet this need instantly, we should make this a matter of prayer by asking God to meet this need and make this possible as soon as possible.
Key Question: Will you pray for God to help us identify at least one more pastor in the next year or two to reassemble a pastoral team for Brookdale once again?
As on the island of Crete, this would be a key step forward in “setting in order the things that are lacking.” Do you agree?
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